When you are in the middle of a life storm, what do you do? What do you say to people who are really struggling? How should disciples of Jesus answers these questions? As we have been studying Acts 27, the Apostle Paul’s journey to Rome, he is on a boat in the middle of a storm. The 276 people on board the Roman cargo ship are desperate, as the storm is relentless. Paul speaks up, as we saw yesterday, but the first words out of his mouth are rather discouraging.
Look at what Paul says verse 22. After starting with a petty “told ya so,” now he is encouraging. Did you notice how similar Paul’s words here in verse 22 are to the words that Jesus said to him in the vision in chapter 23:11? I referred to that in the first post in this series. That was back in Jerusalem when the Jews wanted to kill him. Jesus said, “Take courage.” Now Paul says to his fellow passengers, “Keep up your courage. Not one of you will be lost, only the ship will be destroyed.”
Don’t you wish you could see video of this moment? The storm is raging. People are probably shivering, dripping wet, trying to hold tightly to anything on deck that can sure them. Remember, there are 276 people. Could they all hear Paul? Or could only a smaller group standing near him hear Paul? Those that heard him, did they care? Did they respect him? Did they believe him? Did his words, “Keep up your courage,” inspire them at all?
We don’t know how the people reacted at that moment. But I do want us to consider what Paul did while the storm was pounding. He sought to be a voice of calm, a voice of peace, a voice of hope. That’s what disciples of Jesus do in the middle of the storm. We bring peace. We seek to dissolve the drama. We unite, we encourage, we strengthen. Paul is also a truth-teller, as we will see. In Paul we see that disciples of Jesus bring the voice of reason and faith in the midst of the storm. That means we are also people who listen to that voice.
It can be very difficult in the midst of life’s storms to hear the voice of reason and trust and faith, can’t it? When we are asked to be patience, to wait, the last thing we want to hear is “just be patient.” We want the storm to pass, and we want the sun to come out. We want to see those rainbows.
When you’re out of a job, you just want a job. When you’re in a broken relationship, you just want it to be healed or resolved. When you’re sick, you want to feel better. When you’re dealing with difficulty, is hard to hear, “Hang on, hold on, be patient, keep up your courage.” But sometimes we need to hear that. Perhaps especially in the middle of the storm, when we’re not sure we can make it, when we’re wondering if we’re going to fall apart, that is the moment we need a calmer heart and mind to reassure us. I know I can need that. This past week I had some pains and a headache and in a matter of minutes I’m anxious thinking I have Covid and wondering if I will die before I finish my doctoral program. Anyone else over-react like that? Fixate on the worst-case scenario? Well, you’re not alone. In those moments, we need to hear the steady message of “Keep up your courage.” We need to have ears and a heart to listen and receive words like that. We need to have hearts that choose to meditate on truths of God and who He is.
As if to show the passengers that he was not issuing them just a slogan, Paul goes on, and now he presents some evidence to them, maybe helping explain why they should take courage.
Read verses 23-24. How about that? Another vision! And this time the vision is a prophetic word that everyone will be safe. Again, I don’t know how the other passengers received these words from Paul. I don’t know if Paul was respected as a prophet, as one who received messages from God. Maybe some were skeptical. But just maybe it would have helped some passengers know that his comments of “We got this!” are not just empty words. Paul is backing up his encouragement with a message from God.
Paul’s conclusion in verses 25-26 features encouragement tempered by realism. Here comes the truth-telling I mentioned above. He says, “We’re all going to make it, but we’ll lose the ship.” For the realists in the crowd, that might actually have helped them believe Paul. They couldn’t caricature him as “just another religious whacko.” Back in Fair Havens on the island of Crete, his previous weather forecast was right. He was realistic then, and my guess is that it seemed pretty obvious to everyone that what he says, in verse 26 about losing the ship, was going to happen. The realists on board who might be tempted to eye-roll the religious claims Paul was making, would now have to admit that he was not only correct about the storm, but also maybe his religious comments had merit too. It is also good to note that God’s message was realistic too; they would lose the boat. It wasn’t simply going to magically get 100% better. There was still a storm and still consequences to a storm. But God was with them. They need to choose what their focus would be on: the storm or his presence through it.
What happens after Paul’s speech? Check back tomorrow to find out.